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5 August 2020
Don't assume that just because you've run out of space you need to shell out for storage or a new, higher-spec mobile, especially as the same type of phone with more memory can cost up to £300 more. There are lots of ways to claw back GBs without paying a penny - this guide explains how.
Have you freed up storage on your phone? We want to hear your feedback, as well as tips not covered here and any ideas of your own. Please get in touch through the How to increase phone storage discussion.
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Freeing up space on your phone is more art than science, and exactly how many GB you'll be able to reclaim will depend on your handset and your tolerance of digital clutter. But before you start, here are a couple of examples of how it can work:
I was considering getting a new iPhone and wanted to see how much memory I really needed. I worked my way through my pictures, videos, downloads and apps, erasing everything I didn't need. I grabbed more than 20GB back without losing anything I really liked or needed, cutting the memory used on my phone from 45GB to just over 20GB. What's more, it gave me the confidence to go for a smaller, cheaper new phone - I went for the 32GB model rather than the pricier 64GB.
Trying to free up space on my phone before I needed to pay even more a month for storage, I deleted my podcast app as I’d listened to one or two podcasts - didn’t realise it downloaded every episode and so freed up about 3GB.
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Ready to start? Here are our top storage-salvaging tips, with step-by-step instructions.
Check your operating system. The steps below are based on Android Pie (9.0) and iOS 13, among the most-used versions of each operating system. But if you have another version, the steps may be slightly different.
So, what is actually taking up so much space on your phone? It depends, of course. But there's a decent chance that your photos and videos - ie, those you record yourself - are using more room than anything else, so getting as many of them off your phone as possible should be your priority.
Many people have multiple GBs of photos and videos - and if you only have, say, 32GB to play with in total, that can take up a huge percentage.
You can deal with your photos without deleting them, or having to pay for an expensive hard drive which you'll likely lock away in a drawer somewhere. Storing them online can free up many GBs of space, yet means you can still access and view them on your phone.
Best of all, both Android and iPhone users can get FREE online storage, via the Google Photos app or other options. Google Photos allows unlimited free storage of photos and videos, though only if you save them in Google's compressed ‘high quality’ format rather than the original. This resizes photos over 16 megapixels to 16 megapixels, which shouldn't be a problem for most.
Android users may already have Google Photos on their phone, but if not download it for free. Once you have it, go to Google Photos, tap the menu icon in the top left-hand corner, select Settings > Back up & sync and turn it on. To delete photos and videos that have been backed up from your phone, go back to the app's home screen, tap the menu icon and select Free up space - it'll tell you how many items will be deleted and how much space you'll save.
Google Photos is probably also your best bet if you have an iOS device - download it for free from the App Store. Open the app and sign in to your Google account - or set one up for free if you don't already have one. Tap the hamburger menu at the top, then Settings > Back up & sync and turn it on. To delete pics and vids that have been backed up, tap the hamburger menu and select Free up space - it'll tell you how many items will be deleted and how much space will be freed up.
If you prefer to keep things Apple, iOS devices give you 5GB of free storage on iCloud (you'll need an Apple ID), which you can use to store pics and videos exactly as you took them. This may run out quickly though, especially if you store a lot of video - if so, you can upgrade to 50GB for 79p/mth - full info in Free Online Storage.
To move photos and videos from your phone storage to iCloud automatically, set up iCloud Photo Library by going to Settings > Photos and enabling iCloud Photos. If you turn on Optimise iPhone Storage too, it will keep the size of the photo and video collection on your iPhone to a minimum by retaining only space-saving versions on the actual device - full-res versions can be downloaded from iCloud at any time.
For a full rundown of the top free online storage options, including where's best to store photos at higher resolution and how BT broadband customers can get up to 1,000GB 'free', see our Free Online Storage guide.
If it’s not photos and videos that are clogging up your phone, then it's likely apps are the culprit - according to a recent study by internet security company Kaspersky, Android users typically add two new apps a month. And as some apps - generally games - can top 1GB, they can quickly eat into your storage.
Often people are reluctant to delete apps they don't use - especially if they paid for them - because they think they'll disappear for good. But if you do delete an app, it's not necessarily gone forever. If you decide you really DO need it, you can usually re-download it from the Google Play or App Store - and if you paid for it, you won't have to pay again.
Beware - delete an app and it COULD disappear for good. If you cull an app and it's subsequently removed from Google Play or the App Store by Google/Apple or the publisher, you WON'T be able to download it again, even if you paid for it. Think carefully before you wield the axe.
You should be able to do your own app audit, as you'll have a rough idea of which you open daily and which are gathering cyber-dust. Helpfully though, on both Android and iPhone there's a quick trick to get your phone to tell you which apps you use least - use that as a guide to what to delete.
On Android, open Play Store and tap the hamburger menu icon in the top left-hand corner, then My apps & games > Installed. Then tap the three-line options icon towards the top right and Last used, which will list apps from most recently used to least used. To delete an app, tap [name of app] > Uninstall.
On iOS, go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage - you'll be able to see how big each of your apps is and when you last used each one. To delete one, tap it's name and then Delete App.
Your next target is your apps' caches. That's where your phone stores information from apps it's likely to need frequently, so it can be accessed quickly. Over time, this can take up more and more space - the Facebook app, for example, can balloon from around 50MB to 500MB with a year's typical use. We've also seen the Sky Sports app on an iPhone take up close to 1GB in space - but following the tip below brought it down to just over 100MB.
Clearing your apps' caches won't wipe any personal data, such as games in progress, messages or pictures - clearing your apps' data WILL though, so make sure you choose the right option.
On Android, open Settings and tap Apps & notifications > [app name] > Storage > Clear cache to clear an app's cache. This won't wipe any personal data (but make sure you tap the right option).
Unfortunately there's no specific 'clear cache' function for iOS. You can achieve much the same thing by deleting and reinstalling apps though - but bear in mind unless you have iOS 11 or above, doing this probably WILL delete all personal data, such as messages, images and saved games, associated with that app.
The good news is that iOS 11 and up have a feature called 'Offload Unused Apps' that allows you to delete apps, yet retain the data and documents associated with them. To do this, tap Settings > General > iPhone Storage > [app name] > Offload App. To reinstall an app, open the App Store and search for the app in question, then tap the app name and the 'Get' button.
Now that many apps open web pages without you having to leave the app, it’s easy to forget your phone has a browser. But just like other apps, your phone's browser (eg, Safari, Chrome, Firefox) has a cache, which contains your browsing history and other data such as cookies – small files that tailor websites to you.
While clearing your phone’s browser cache is unlikely to free up loads of space - and means you'll have to sign back into any site that needs signing into – every little helps, particularly if you’re short on time or struggling for options. As a bonus, clearing your browser’s cache can also speed it up a bit.
On Android, open Chrome, tap the three-dot menu at the top right, then Settings > Privacy > Clear browsing data. Tap on the Advanced tab, untick all the boxes apart from Cached images and files (unless there's anything else you want to clear) and then tap Clear data > Clear.
With iOS, go to Settings > Safari > Clear History and Website Data > Clear History and Website Data (again).
Your phone is a haven for hidden downloads - podcasts, videos, voice recordings, PDFs, screenshots and just about anything else you can think of which you've subscribed to, been sent or downloaded.
We often take one look or listen, then forget about (and therefore keep) them, so they skulk in a dark corner taking up valuable space. The answer? Do a search of your photo albums, voice memos etc and get rid of them...
Also go through your texts and WhatsApp messages to delete old conversations you no longer want to keep. If there are lots of pictures and videos on them they could be taking up lots of space.
MSE Guy had his iPhone for almost seven years and had hardly deleted a message. By clearing his old or unimportant messages he freed up a huge 5GB.
They are usually somewhere between 25MB and 50MB in size, but once you've downloaded them and listened to them, the chances are you forget about them. And if you download on a weekly basis, the space they take up will quickly grow. So here's how to prune them.
With Android phones, open Play Music, tap the hamburger menu icon in the top left-hand corner and switch Downloaded only on. Go back to the app's home screen, tap Albums or Songs and locate the podcast you want to delete. Tap on the three-dot menu next to the title, then Delete > OK.
With iOS, open Podcasts, go to Library > Downloaded Episodes, swipe left on the episode you want to remove, then tap Remove. To re-download, open Podcasts, search for the podcast you want and tap on it, then tap Available Episodes, then on the plus sign next to the episode you want to download, then on the download symbol when it appears.
If you use another app to download podcasts, such as Audioboom or Pocket Casts, you'll have to follow a different process to delete them, but it should be straightforward.
Pre-installed apps are the cockroaches of the app world – you can’t vanquish them, no matter how much you dislike them. (Unless, that is, you go nuclear and ‘root’ your Android phone or ‘jailbreak’ your iPhone, which essentially gaining access to your device’s entire system, not just the user interface - this is likely to void your warranty and may do your phone a mischief, so ISN'T recommended).
What you can do is disable pre-installed apps. While they’ll still be on your phone, any updates will be undone, they will no longer receive new updates, the data they’ve gathered will be deleted and they won't run in the background anymore. And while again this is unlikely to save you a huge amount of space, every little helps
To disable apps that came pre-installed on your Android phone, open Settings and tap Apps & notifications > [app name] > Disable > Disable app. To re-enable, open Settings, tap Apps & notifications > [app name] > Enable.
With iOS, disable pre-installed apps by touching and lightly holding the app you want to disable until it begins to jiggle, tapping the cross on the app, and then tapping Delete. To re-enable a disabled app, open the App Store, search for the app and tap the download icon - the app will be restored to your home screen
If you've a lot of music on your phone, you need to move it to save space – each album takes up around 40MB, which quickly adds up.
To avoid any risk of losing your music for good, it's always best to back it up on another device such as your laptop if you can.
Many find an alternative to having music on your phone is to start using a streaming service such as Spotify - see Free Music Online for more info. But to keep YOUR music online you can use Google Play Music, which lets you both Android and iPhone users upload up to 50,000 tracks free, then download them or stream them whenever you want.
Beware - delete music and it COULD disappear for good. If you delete it from your phone and store it in Google Play, there's a small risk Google or the publisher could then remove the track from Google Play Music, in which case you WON'T be able to re-download it. To avoid this, save a copy on another device or elsewhere online as well.
Here's how to transfer your tracks to Google Play Music:
Apple users can download the Google Play Music app for free from the App Store - you just need a free Google login. To upload music you'll need to sync your phone with iTunes on a computer, then sync iTunes with Google Play Music on the web.
Alternatively if you bought the majority of your MP3s from iTunes, you could simply delete them from your phone, then re-download them when you want to listen to them. However the risk mentioned above also applies here - in the event a track's pulled from iTunes by Apple or the publisher, you're unlikely to be able to download it again.
You can download areas from Google Maps and save them to your phone so you can navigate offline. It’s a really useful feature - particularly if you want to dodge hefty mobile roaming fees while abroad. But a single downloaded map can hog up to 1GB of phone storage, so removing downloaded maps could save you a fair amount of space.
Whether you’ve an Android or iOS device, the process of deleting downloaded areas from Google Maps is the same. Open Google Maps and tap the hamburger menu icon in the top left, then tap Offline maps > [downloaded map you want to delete] > Delete > Delete.
If you’ve downloaded e-books to your phone that you’ve read or are some way down your ‘to read’ list, get rid of 'em.
You can download them again if and when you want them, or you can read them online provided you have data or you’re connected to free Wi-Fi. Not storing them on your phone can save you around 2MB per book.
Beware - delete books and they COULD disappear for good. The same warning applies here as for apps, music and more. If you delete a book from your phone and store it in the cloud, there's a small risk Google, Apple or the publisher could then pull the book, in which case you WON'T be able to re-download it.
Here's how to remove your books from your phone:
With Android, open Google Play Books, tap the three-line menu icon in the top left and switch on Downloaded only. Return to the app's home screen and go to the Library tab, tap on the three-dot menu icon in the right corner of the title you want to delete, then Remove download and Remove. To re-download, switch off Downloaded only, go to Library and tap on the three-dot menu icon on the right of the title, then Download.
With iOS, open Books, select the title you want to remove, tap on the three-dot menu icon underneath it and tap Remove > Remove Download. To re-download, open Books, search for the title or find it in the 'Reading Now' section, tap the three-dot menu icon underneath it and then Download.
Kindle app user? Any books, magazines, newspapers or audiobooks you've stored on your phone via the app will be using up space. Remove items by pressing and holding them while in the content library, then selecting 'Remove' (Android) or 'Remove from Device' (iPhone).
The Files app on Android phones is where some of the unnecessary data that ends up on them hides out, be it junk files downloaded by apps, or documents, images, audio files and videos you’ve downloaded and forgotten about.
You may have erased some of these files already while cleaning up elsewhere, but if not, emptying the folder could save you 50MB-100MB - maybe more if you've never emptied it before. Again, not a lot, but if you’ve trying to eke out space so you can take a photo and time is of the essence, this will do the job in a jiffy.
All you have to do is open Files on your Android handset, tap and hold the file you want to delete, then tap the bin icon when it appears, then OK. To empty the folder in one go, instead of tapping the bin icon, tap the three-dot menu icon in the top right corner, then Select all, then tap the bin icon and OK.
This works on the same principle as apps, music and books. If you’ve downloaded a single HD movie from Google Play, iTunes or anywhere else, it will take up 3GB-5GB. If they’re programmes or films you’ve paid for, you'll usually be able to re-download them or stream them if you delete them.
Beware - delete a film or TV show and it COULD go for good. If you delete a film or TV show you've paid for, there's a small risk Google, Apple or copyright holder could pull it from Google Play Movies or iTunes, in which case you WON'T be able to re-download it. To avoid this it's worth saving your downloads on another device or elsewhere online if you can.
Here's how to delete films you no longer want or have saved elsewhere:
With Android, open Google Play Movies & TV, tap the three-line menu icon in the top left corner, then Settings > Manage downloads > [film, series or episode] > Remove.
To delete films and TV programmes downloaded to iOS devices, go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage > TV > Review Apple TV Downloads, then find the film, series or episode you want to delete, swipe left on it, then tap Delete.
If you've films or shows downloaded within apps such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Prime Video, you should be able to remove them from within each app.
OK, so this isn't a long-term solution. Operating system updates usually include security patches, so you should update as soon as possible for obvious reasons.
But if you're short of storage in the short-term and are willing to risk a delay in getting the latest security updates, it could be worth holding off for a few days and then checking online to see how much space people are saying the update is taking up.
Larger updates can use up around 30MB. While that’s not a huge amount, it could be significant if you’re really struggling to free up space or simply haven’t had time to try the other tips in this guide.
Remember, by holding off updating your phone's operating system you potentially expose yourself to security risks these updates are designed to fix. Only put off the update as a last resort, and make doing it as soon as you can a priority.
Check if an update could actually SAVE you space. Some major operating system updates may actually free up space on your phone - for example, iOS 10.3 introduced a new file storage system that was widely reported to free up a small amount of storage when installed.
Here's how to make sure your phone DOESN'T update until you want it to:
With most Android devices, you can't stop them from nagging you to update to the latest version of the operating system, but most give you the option of downloading it or delaying it when they do, so opt for the latter.
With iOS, go to Settings > Software Update > Automatic Updates and then switch 'Automatic Updates' to off. Your iPhone may have already downloaded an update for installation - delete this by opening Settings and tapping General > iPhone Storage > [iOS update] > Delete Update and then Delete Update in the alert window.
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